Peter Shelton

Messing With Ski Shapes, Part Three

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on February 4, 2012

In case you thought the Fédération Internationale de Ski wasn’t crazy enough remanding ski shapes back to the 1980s, here they came a couple of weeks ago to tell Tina Maze that her underwear is too fast.

Maze is the second-best female ski racer in the world right now, a Slovenian Lindsey Vonn with darker hair and more charming dimples and a somewhat less off-putting killer instinct. Her nickname is Fox.

Maze had just finished second in a super G at Bad Kleinkircheim, Austria, in mid January, when the Swiss team protested the legality of the underwear beneath her speed suit. (How the Swiss knew to protest is anyone’s guess.) The FIS confiscated Maze’s one-piece Energiapura body stocking and tested it for permeability. It passed, but skiing’s governing body subsequently issued a confusing statement saying that while it was not, strictly speaking, illegal, women shouldn’t wear the Italian-made under layer. A few days after that FIS President Gianfranco Kasper puffed himself up and said there would be rule changes coming, that underwear with too much plastic in it would henceforth be banned.

Maze kept her sense of humor. The day after the flap she unzipped her warm-up jacket to reveal a sports bra with the words NOT YOUR BUSINESS written in sharpie across the front.

The incident went viral, of course. But almost nobody, from The New York Times to NPR, talked about why permeability matters. Speed suits could be made of slick rubber, and they would be very fast indeed through the cloying air at 70+ mph. But they would turn a fallen skier into an unstoppable bar of soap, zipping across the ice until safety fencing, or something ruder, brought her to a halt.

(I once saw a speed skier on the Silverton track in 1980s fall at 110 mph, and slide for a quarter mile. His rubber suit melted and bonded with the skin on his thigh.)

So, the outer suit (Lindsey’s ever-changing pink-and-white-and-yellow numbers, Maze’s green-and-blue Slovenian team colors) must let a certain amount of air through, and the standard must be the same for everyone. But a person’s underwear? Does that really make a difference? Can that really, as some in the media proclaimed, be compared to cheating, to “doping?”

The FIS can and does regulate almost everything in ski racing. Some of it is necessary. I’ve been harsh about the new sidecuts, which go into effect next year, but the FIS has mandated ski shapes twice already in the super-sidecut era. In 2003, they said giant slalom skis could not have a built-in radius of less than 21 meters (69 feet). In 2007, they upped it to 27 meters for men and 23 meters for women. The 2013 rule will require a minimum radius of 35 meters (115 feet), while us amateurs (and countless racer kids) are carving the hills on sidecuts more than twice as quick. The FIS is doing this, they say, to reduce the forces at work on skier’s bodies, and thus reduce injuries.

There are two problems with that. First, they haven’t proved that the changes will reduce injuries. Their intentions may be honorable, but the science they quote is way too limited, way too subjective.

Second, skiers and equipment manufacturers will find ways to get around the restrictions. They always have. Innovation is how the sport advances. Put a major design improvement together with a brilliant skier and you get a revolution – Bode Miller at age 18, for example, discovering the radically curved (for 1998) K2 Fours. This is the revolution we have all benefited from the last dozen years.

The athletes and the engineers will conspire to create the next great thing, no matter what the FIS dictates.

The question is, who will be hurt in the short term? I think of Ted Ligety, the current giant slalom titleholder. Ted probably has the most to lose. He has invested so much in matching his body, his technique to the carving ability of the current skis. The 2013 changes will not help him, and he has not hesitated to cry foul.

Not all Hollywood stars of the silent era made the transition to talkies. Some of today’s best racers will adapt better than others. There may be a lost generation while skiers and manufacturers play catch-up – a stutter step, at the very least, in the march of progress.

Meanwhile, as Bode told reporters last fall, speaking of the new GS prototypes, which he had tried and found seriously not fun: “You all will be able to go into a shop and buy a better ski than I’ll be riding.” If he’s still on the circuit in 2013. He strongly hinted that the imposition of retro, skidding skis might very well slide him right straight into retirement.

As for Tina Maze, one can only hope the magazines are lined up, from GQ to Vogue, to feature the ladies in their banned union suits.

One Response

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  1. Lin Hellman said, on April 10, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    Are you the Peter Shelton who was at Keystone? I am Linda (Lin) Hellman. on facebook. Hello, again?

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